Category: Archive

Secrets between siblings

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

At first glance, the play seems to resemble the sort of thing Dublin?s Abbey Theatre actually staged in those days, hard-breathing dramas situated on poverty-stricken farms in a corner of rural Ireland.
But there?s a difference that would have made ?A Reed in the Wind? impossible for Ireland?s National Theatre, particularly in the morally constricted years between the world wars.
That forbidding element in the play, currently on view at the Abingdon Theatre on West 36th Street, is that McDonald?s plot pivots on an incestuous relationship involving a brother and sister.
Siblings Michael and Kate Nolan inherited the isolated family property, near a Waterford town the playwright calls Ballydennis, when their apparently unmarried parents perished in a mysterious fire 15 years before the events the play details.
When their Protestant, alcoholic father and their Catholic mother died, Michael was 17and Kate 14.
Shunned by the Ballydennis villagers because of their reputed illegitimacy, the town?s disdain intensified by rumors of incest. Michael and Kate have lived alone with little or no contact with such neighbors as they may have on their lonely patch of land. The brother and sister have long since drifted into a sexual relationship in which the angrily neurotic Michael is clearly the aggressor, while the docile, easily influenced Kate, at most a guilt-haunted, reluctant participant, struggles to release herself from her brother?s poisonous influence.
The opportunity presents itself when Michael acquires a hired hand, Peter Mallon, to help around the place. The new hire has problems of his own, not to mention an unsavory reputation broadcast through the area by Father Gilroy, the town?s gossipy, potentially licentious priest.
?A Reed in the Wind? obviously owes something to Eugene O?Neill?s ?Desire Under the Elms,? and even more to some of the more lurid melodramas churned out in recent seasons by the prolific Martin McDonough, ?The Beauty Queen of Leenane? among them.
McDonald?s somewhat clumsily executed plot involves a lot of talk about ?slopping the pigs,? and an endless-seeming procession of cups and pots of tea trundled on and off by the compliant-seeming Kate, while Michael and Peter circle around each other, searching, consciously or otherwise, for vulnerable spots and exploitable character areas.
Like many plays by relatively inexperienced writers, ?A Reed in the Wind? is heavily burdened by clumsy exposition, with characters endlessly reminding one another of details and dates with which they are already all too familiar, but which come as fresh information to the production?s audiences.
The production, directed by Ernie Martin, the artistic director of the Actors? Creative Theatre Ltd., the organization responsible for the event, is as simple and as straightforward as Gilberto Arribas?s rudimentary set design and the clear but subtle lighting provided by Matthew McCarthy.
Richard Kamerman?s sound design seems to suggest that wildly violent storms are a more or less constant part of life in rural Waterford. Oddly enough, as realized by director Martin, the comings and goings of the play?s three male characters seem surprisingly undrenched, despite the production?s sporadically weather-heavy sound plot.
Martin, who directed McDonald?s previous play, ?Women of Armagh,? has done an honest job of staging what is, despite its author?s evident earnestness, at heart a stumbling play that feels as though it had been written from the outside, and composed, as it were, by the numbers, as opposed to having been motivated by a genuine internal passion on the part of the playwright.
Despite its awkwardnesses, ?A Reed in the Wind? has the virtue of having a uniformly excellent four-actor cast, with particular emphasis on the two young performers, Jack Walsh and Phil Burke, who play, respectively, Michael Nolan and Pete Mallon. Walsh somehow manages to keep Michael relatively sympathetic, despite the negativity displayed by both his attitudes and his actions.
Burke?s Peter is both credible and mysterious as a man with a secret to conceal, in addition to which the actor manages a believable Cork accent, which is perhaps unsurprising, considering that the Toronto-born performer spent many of his formative years in Ireland.
Aubyn Philabaum?s Kate is a sympathetic portrait of an innocent young woman of limited experience, trapped in a situation beyond her control.
The venomous local parish priest, Father Gilroy, stands, even more distinctly than the offending brother, Michael, as the play?s villain, a stock, standard-issue character straight out of the melodrama workbook. Character-actor Kevin Hagan does what he can in the curate?s few brief, plot-propelling appearances.

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